This one might already be somewhere in my beer entries. Still, it's worth repeating… 😉
Much of craft beer culture in North America uses a continuum based on two important images from two important brewing traditions: Belgian Ales and German Lagers. Not that these are at all exclusive associations. Belgium produces many lager beers and Germany produces many ales. Other brewing traditions (especially from the Czech Republic or from the British Isles and former British colonies) also have their own ales and lager beers. But these two “national” traditions are quite important in craft beer culture's imagination and self-identification.
The German Lagers used as a prototype are usually clean, crisp, refreshing, balanced, and especially consistent. The Belgian Ales used as a prototype are usually complex, smooth, soothing, malty, and especially distinctive. Many beers are located along this continuum. And it's not unusual to see malty brews associated with complexity or crisp brews with clean-tasting. The values of consistency and distinctiveness are quite important in craft brewing as it influences brewing practise. Those of a more creative approach may tend to prefer brewing Belgian Ales, even when the results are disappointing while those with a more technical perspective may prefer brewing German Lagers, even if their taste is relatively unassertive. In such a context, the images/stereotypes of a German Engineer (GE: who wants his work to always be perfect and dependable) and the Belgian Artist (BA: who wants his work to make a statement) seem useful, if simplistic.
For one thing, those images don't necessarily correspond to beer styles. Many of the BA beers could in fact be based on German beers like the Hefeweizen and Berliner Weiss. Similarly, GE beers are likely to be ales, especially British ones. But the brewing traditions of Germany and Belgium are perceived through those models/prototypes.
For Belgium, there's a wealth of resources (including on Ron Pattison's site) but its beer scene is characteristically described by disparate details as it's difficult to make sense of Belgian beer in general.
Of course, discussions of regional differences within these two countries in brewing patterns are extremely important. But these differences are rarely seen by North American craft beer people as implying much distinction in brewing philosophy.
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